I don't mourn Cin Cin because its spirit has been dead so long. The place started in the late 1980s by Croatian brothers Luis and Tonci Farac and chef Warwick Brown was sold about 10 years ago. The new owners took it upmarket (though Cin Cin's charm was always that it was more a posh pizza parlour than a fine-dining restaurant), and if the food was sometimes good, the service was vague and the "wow" factor missing. A few months ago, I ordered a long black at the harbourside entrance and was treated with something closer to hostility than indifference.
Now it's Botswana Butchery, a place whose name would have deterred the Professor. The "Botswana" bit wouldn't have given her any trouble: she's a big fan of that country's fictional private eye, Precious Ramotswe of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. It's just she's not big on butcheries; it's as much as I can do to get her to pick up a chook for dinner on the way home.
Fortunately, Botswana Butchery, complete with whimsical meat-cleaver handles on the main doors, opened in a week when she was offshore, and so I invited my old mate Charles.
"I expected to see flies whizzing around bloody carcasses on butcher's blocks," he said as he sat down. I chided him gently for his colonialist slight, told him to remove his pith helmet and began scanning the menu in search of the samp (a grits equivalent), seswaa (mashed meat) and edible caterpillars called mopane worms which, my research had informed me, are essential elements of Botswana cuisine. They were nowhere to be found.
The place's name, it turns out, comes from founder Al Spary's preference for words beginning with "b" when choosing names for his establishments, of which he has many in Queenstown and Wanaka (the original BBs hail from those southern towns, too).
Now I know it's none of my business to say so, but I think a restaurant's name should say something about it. To me "Botswana Butchery" sings of a barbecue at dusk on the veldt (flies optional), but that's not what it is at all.
There is certainly a section on the menu entitled "From the butcher's block" - half a dozen steaks, a venison dish and a slow-roasted lamb shoulder for two, which looked sensational on a nearby table. But the provenance of the rest of what's on offer - sashimi, empanadas, san choy bow (chicken lettuce wraps) - is varied indeed.
So is the quality.
A seriously blinged woman at the next table recommended the Peking Duck, which, like many of the entrees, comes in at a cool $24.95, and I thought it a measure of my self-control that I continued to speak civilly to her after I had tried it. The tablespoon of duck flesh, which looked like pulled pork, was dry and cheerless and the garnishes, including thick slices of cucumber, too coarse for the little pancake wrappers (these came in a bamboo steamer without the paper that stops the bottom one from sticking and disintegrating when removed).
The "new-style" prawn cocktail (same price) was even worse. Reinventing a Kiwi classic (the shrimp cocktail with Thousand Island dressing) is a great idea, but these prawns were either ancient, newly thawed or overcooked, though the dressing was tasty and the accompanying thick slab of grilled pancetta was a good touch.
A piece of sirloin on the bone was excellent, which is what you would expect, since the executive chef is Stuart Rogan, lately of The Grill, and likewise, a serving of lamb's fry and bacon was a knockout, the offal crisp-skinned, yet pink and juicy inside.
But details jarred: the greens were overcooked and sloppily presented; our mains arrived before the entrees and the repeated assurances that they would be freshly prepared were tiresome. Two dishes were delivered to the next table, until I intervened to suggest the waitress might be looking for us. Sure it was only the second night, but it all seemed a bit Fawltyesque for a new branch of an established operation.
The handsome, aesthetically eclectic refit - bold lampshades, padded leather walls and sofas on the terrace - makes the most of the sensational setting. But Botswana Butchery is hunting for business in a part of town where there is pretty stiff competition. They have some work to do.
Need to know
$ = $20-$40; $$ = 40-60; $$$ = $60+.
(Price guide reflects three courses for one person without drinks.)
Wildfire, Marvel Grill and Jervois Steak House are all meaty, beaty, big and bouncy.